Maze stadium: another own goal
As exclusively predicted in this newspaper more than a month ago, plans to build a sports stadium on the site of the former Maze Prison have been axed.
There were practical problems with the site with many sports fans arguing that it was too remote from the main population centre. Others pointed up the need for improved infrastructure to cope with bringing tens of thousands of fans to the area. These were valid points to raise, but not insuperable.
However it does seem that politics more than practical reasons were the real reason for the demise of the project. There was no doubt that the DUP, of which Sports Minister Gregory Campbell is a member, was split on the issue along constituency lines, with those members representing the Lisburn and immediate hinterland in favour of siting the stadium at the Maze and other elements of the party backing a Belfast option. It is somehow symptomatic of the political bickering that has accompanied the project since it was proposed that even the Minister’s rec
ommendation to drop it has yet to make the discussion table at the Stormont Executive.
The Maze project is not alone in being put on the long finger. Caitriona Ruane, the Education Minister, has said she will go ahead with her controversial education reforms even though the Executive has not fully discussed them. It now appears that the Executive is to move back to weekly meetings. Given the number of important issues that have to be addressed, never mind the deepening economic crisis, that would seem the only proper course of action. While the Executive may not be a fully-fledged gov
ernment, it still has important administrative functions that require to be carried out on a constant basis.
And one of those functions is to decide what to do about meeting the needs of soccer, rugby and GAA in Northern Ireland with the demise of the Maze stadium. The likely course of action appears to be to give the three sporting bodies money to continue to run their sports in their existing stadia. Windsor Park, which is barely able to host international soccer games, is to be patched up. That is not a cheap option and will do nothing to improve the status of
the game. The politicians have missed a glorious chance to create a sporting monument on a site that cost them nothing. Other ancillary developments including leisure activities could have been included on the site. Even the conflict resolution centre, which unionists feared would be a shrine to republican terrorism, could have been designed to encompass the whole spectrum of the Troubles.
One of the observations in the Eames/Bradley document on addressing the legacy of the past was that sport could, and should, play a more positive role in bridging the community divide and building a shared future. Staging showpiece games from soccer, rugby and the GAA in a common stadium would have been a powerful signal of changing times and attitudes. That is unlikely to happen now.
As well, Northern Ireland has also lost the chance of demonstrating to the rest of Europe that it can provide world-class sporting facilities. All in all, the Maze debacle is simply another own goal.